My mother always began preparations on Wednesday for our abundant home-cooked Thanksgiving feast with a main dish of turkey, ham, chicken, duck, or goose–sometimes more than one. Deviled eggs, black olives, pickles and cranberry sauce nestled among bowls brimming with homemade dressing, potato salad, and green beans. Mincemeat, apple, and sweet potato pies covered the kitchen counter. Occasionally, a fresh coconut cake towered over the pies, giving it bragging rights. Mama made room for other side dishes brought by my married siblings just before noon. Papa was serious about the precise time. We ate at noon by his pocket watch—not one minute earlier or later.
The adults sat with Papa around the food-laden table in the dining room. Mama seated the younger children at the square drop-leaf table in the kitchen. I ate in the living room with my twin sister and nieces and nephews our age, balancing our plates on our knees. Mama served everyone first and ate later. After lunch, the women washed and dried dishes. Children played on the covered porch. Men gathered in the tiny living room to talk. A couple of my brothers drifted outside for an afternoon smoke, forbidden inside our home.
One eve of Thanksgiving, the smell of chicken frying in a cast-iron skillet wafted from the kitchen in place of baking turkey. The sweet smell of fried apple turnovers replaced the aroma of pies. I listened from the open doorway as my parents talked about working on Thanksgiving Day. Oh, no! It can’t be!
The next morning after breakfast, Mama packed the refrigerated chicken and fried pies in a sturdy cardboard box and covered it with a tablecloth just as Frank, my oldest brother, arrived to take us to work.
I stepped down from the old Model A Ford running board. On the ground, I pulled the strap of my cotton sack over my head and under my left arm, and shook eight feet of canvas between two rows of late-blooming white cotton basking in the early morning sun.
Five minutes before twelve, Mama stopped picking and spread the tablecloth on a patch of flat ground. Papa removed his hat, wiped his perspiring forehead with a handkerchief and checked his pocket watch. At noon he nodded to Frank to say a blessing for the food.
“Thank you, Lord, for family gathered here on this Thanksgiving Day. Bless this food to the nourishments of our bodies so we can finish this field before dark. Bless the farmer who allowed us to work today. Prosper him abundantly for his kindness. Amen.”
Bless the farmer? Without him we’d be home heaping our plates with turkey and dressing and eyeing the tantalizing desserts, not eating cold fried chicken in a cotton field. My complaining thoughts were interrupted by my nephew’s voice.
“Please pass another piece of Grandma’s fried chicken,” he said. “It’s the best I ever ate. And, could you hand me a couple more fried apple pies. Grandma knows how to make them just right.”
The next year we gathered at home for our traditional Thanksgiving meal. One of my brothers mentioned Frank’s prayer from the previous year.
“That prayer must have worked,” he said. “That farmer did so well he bought a cotton-picking machine and put all of us out of work.”
Violet Carr Moore, adapted from Double Take (Carr Twins & Co., 2014)
Posted at 12 noon, Pacific Standard Time, in honor of my father’s tradition